Since the dawn of civilization, humans have come quite far in how we live and interact in society as our own unique individuals. We have formed social roles based on different social settings and the use of different personas in how we present ourselves to other individuals, which in turn enables other’s to form an image of your personality in their own mind. Since humans are creatures of habit, we have, over time, formed a system of how we interact with people, which can be categorized at patterns that can be studied and analyzed. Hence, for this project, I analyzed social roles in different social settings and how people adapt to those roles and react to situations i.e. their interaction patterns. The social settings I analyzed are fast-food franchise restaurants, namely McDonald’s, Smoke’s Poutinerie and A, how people act according to their social roles as soon as they enter the restaurant up to the time they leave it, including the people working there. Since I’m new to Canada I have had a very different experience in fast-food places here than in other countries.
Since I am an artist and graphic designer, my entire approach to my work is based on increasing knowledge about different topics, the main component of which is observation. One can learn a great deal about situations by just observing and analyzing actions and interactions. Hence my main aim was to visit the storefronts and purchase some food so that I myself could also carry out a social interaction and get some first-hand experience being aware that I will be analyzing the situation. Goffmani talks about people being actors in different social settings in the sense that they act while they are interacting amongst people. It is how people have different personas that they have consciously constructed to portray in different scenarios that would leave the best image of them in other’s so that they may be perceived in the way that they are seeking to do. Hence not only did I analyze the fast-food restaurants, I also carried out the social interaction myself to see how I too, conform and experience the social setting according to Goffman’s dramaturgic theory. To view these as learned behaviors that have been built and disseminated through time and society is a core function in the advancement of civilization towards a positive prospect.
The most common thing, visually, amongst the three restaurants that I analyzed was the vibrant colors that are used in the restaurants, how there is music blaring to create an aura of energy, the colors attracting you to create a sense of urgency. Both McDonalds, as Smoke’s Poutinerie use the color red in their branding, A uses the color orange, which is usually associated with the sense of alarm, which is why we see stop signs being red, as well as warning signs and the fire trucks. However in a restaurant, it serves two purposes, one is to grab attention and the other to create a sense of urgency. Restaurants do this to increase footfall in their restaurants so as to maximize profits by serving more customers. McDonalds has even put up screens for self-service so that customers don’t have to stand in line and wait to give their orders, which is one common thing I found in all three restaurants that when people stand to enter the restaurant they always form a line to give their food order, a habit which is not found in eastern countries. The line that is formed in each restaurant is done so in front of counters, behind which stand the individuals who work and hence represents the establishment and what they offer to sell. As the line moves forward, the customer whose turn it is to order is welcomed with a greeting from the salesperson and occasionally a smile, followed by some meaningless conversation to pass the few seconds that the customer may have to wait before their order can be processed. This, of course, depends entirely on the mood of the person serving and the standard of the establishment you are in. For example, McDonalds and A&W are considerably older and bigger chains than Smoke’s Poutinerie, which is why they have entire teams working in the restaurant, from cashiers, servers, and cooks to managers, where at Smoke’s Poutinerie the person that seems to be running the entire store was one girl that looked tired and a bit overwhelmed. Each of the aforementioned restaurants also hosts an array of oddly inviting yet entirely uncomfortable seating & tables that reinforce the notion that they want you out of the establishment as fast as you came.
The McDonalds I visited is very close to my apartment and is open 24 hours of the day. It is on the main Bloor Street near Sherbourne Subway Station and hence is quite often very busy even into the late hours of the night. As soon as I entered the store I was greeted with two screens on my right and one on the left, ready to take my order. Straight up ahead, however, is the line that people have formed waiting to be served. People act in this way since they have learned this from school and their parents growing up that it is the right thing to do, as it saves time for everyone and ensures everyone to be served in an organized manner, while avoiding chaos (which happens too often in my home country, Pakistan, where people think that forming lines are entirely suggestive and not necessary).
On this particular occasion, I chose not to order through the big touchscreen and rather to stand in line and wait to interact with the person on duty. In the meantime, I observed the people there. The people who entered and were in hurry or trying to save time went directly to the touch screens and started inputting their orders like it was rehearsed action that they had carried out multiple times before. Other’s, who had already given their order, were standing in a different area (not in a line this time) waiting for the number on their receipt to be called out so they can receive their food. These people seem different from the people standing in line as they are more talkative and open and walking around looking for seating, whereas the people in line are standing very rigid and attentive waiting for the line to move forward with expressionless faces that change as soon as they reach the counter. As soon as they interact with the salesperson they strike a smile in most cases and make small talk before giving out their order. The salesperson is inviting the entire time maintaining eye contact and smiling to seem friendly and hospitable. Once you have paid for what you ordered you are handed a receipt with an order number on it, which you take to another part of the counter and wait for your food with the other people who have ordered before you.
This was slightly different at A’s where there are no screens and no number on your order receipts that are called out; rather, you are seated while your order is prepared. In both restaurants your order number of order contents are called out when your food is prepared so that you can collect it from the counter, at which point, your transaction and your interaction with the personnel working at the establishment is complete.
My experience at Smoke’s Poutinerie was quite different however. Upon entering I saw that the people that were there were already seated and eating. So I went up to the counter to give my order to the only person working there. Like McDonalds and A, I was not greeted with a smile; rather the person took my order as they were just going through the motions. She had not conformed to the role she was required to play or act out, probably because there was no supervisor at hand. However, I soon realized that why that was, as I moved after giving my order I realized that a line had formed right behind me of people waiting to give their orders. At this point another person might have started to prepare my order, however I had to stand and wait for 10 minutes for the other people to give their orders, before the salesperson could go back to the kitchen to assume the role of the cook. Which she did with ease, and started preparing everyone’s poutine. The amount of time in which the food was served was way longer than it would normally be in any other fast food restaurant. However the people did not complain once, since they could see that there was only one person doing everything and also that it takes longer to create fries. The same people, however, would have complained for the time it was taking for them to get served, had they been in any other fast food chain.
It is safe to say that people are preprogrammed to play out a number of roles and carry out social interactions that have been engrained into the habits of people from all races and walks of life. We as people are programmed since early years to stand in lines patiently, be it at the bus stop, or at the coffee shop or even waiting outside a store on Black Friday. We are accustomed to waiting in an organized manner so that everyone can be served according to the order of which they arrived. It creates harmony amongst other individuals and discourages discord amongst the people. Going into a fast-food place, people know that they are expected to leave as quickly as possible and they don’t expect a very high quality of service. They know that they have to leave and with a place with such a high footfall it would be unwise to stay around for other facilities like using the washroom or even sitting in a lot of cases. People that are working in such establishments act according to their fiduciary responsibility, which is dictated by the corporation that they work for. They are taught these values and norms upon appointment of the position and after completing the training session required of these positions. To treat the customer with respect, to communicate with them in an appropriate manner that is approved by the management, to make them feel comfortable about spending their money there by giving them a great experience that exceeds their expectations. The customer in turn also is accustomed to these habits by being respectful of the other people there, and following said norms so that everyone can benefit from the service that they are there to receive.
People are already aware of what to expect at a fast-food restaurant, the standard of service and food, as well as the ambience and style of management. If the same people went to a more upscale restaurant, their personas, mannerisms and expectations would be entirely different in the sense that they would be heightened as well. Hence it begs to question if the environment a person is placed in and what they perceive of it defines the persona. Fast food places a run in a very systematic manner, which reduces waste & time and tries to maximize footfall and hence profit. Due to the use of bright colors and uncomfortable seating as well as loud music blaring in the establishment, people are accustomed to being served quickly and to leave the establishment as quickly. They do not question why this is being done; they welcome it and expected it from the restaurant. Everyone has a sense of organization and understanding, why it is necessary to maintain it in the name of the order and progress. People realize that the system is in place to ensure order and that conforming to the system will benefit everyone. However, for each establishment or setting that the people are placed in, they have different personas or a self that they adopt when acting in these different settings, as they deem or see fit.